The Plague Sucks

Sure, puppetry is a time-honored tradition, with origins in ancient Asia. You have to respect the art form that brought us French marionettes, Punch and Judy and Kermit the Frog. But the question looms: Why use puppets?

"You can do a lot more stuff physically with puppets than you can with actors," says Joel Orr, artistic director of Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre. "Such as burning them or tearing them apart."

Oh, right. This is Bobbindoctrin, the folks whose Danse Macabre I: The Constant Companion focused on "the isolation of death." The sequel, Danse Macabre II: The Consummate Host, involves that least desirable of diseases, the plague. Orr researched the disease and its carriers, the tiny fleas that inject the deadly poison while feeding on human flesh. "We wanted to create something that looked as horrific as that was conceptually," Orr says. Hence the parasitic "dragon flea," a grotesque creature with spearlike legs and blades for teeth.

The Consummate Host stars Eli, a wealthy industrialist who lives in a time of plague infestation. He's grown rich providing funeral services for the dead but has secretly developed a way to stay alive by injecting into his body a new parasite, which counteracts the plague through "a symbiotic dynamic of poisons." His end, as you may have presumed, ain't a pretty one.

Prettiness is not a Bobbindoctrin priority, but artistry is. The Consummate Host involves both giant rod puppets and smaller shadow puppets. For the first time, original animation will play in the background, as will PixelVision images (think black, white and grainy). Accompanying the production is the "dark classical sensibility" of a Two Star Symphony composition inspired by the grim tale (Vivaldi this ain't).

Danse Macabre's third installment is scheduled for the fall. But don't put off seeing a Bobbindoctrin show if you're waiting for something mainstream; one theme Orr is considering for a future production is homosexuality among pirates.

Oh, those scurvy scalawags.

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Julia Ramey